When Do Children Start Dreaming?


When do children start dreaming? Perhaps, as a parent, this question might come to your mind when your baby is few months old and is really “sleeping like a baby”. We have discussed some aspects about infant and children sleep and dreaming.

One of the most amazing things to watch in a newborn baby is his sleep, the most innocent and heart-warming things of all. Most babies are pretty “expressive” sleepers. If we observe, we can see that during deep sleep, they twitch and jerk, they grunt and grimace, they make faces, and they smile. All of those expressions can make us wonder are they actually dreaming. Well, as per studies, it appears babies do dream, but do we know from when? Studies reveal that kids really start to have dreams with a real plot line when they are about 5 to 7 years old, about the time they develop a sense of self, which is necessary to insert themselves into dreams.

Sleeping Baby
Sleeping Infant

Source: Pictures of Babies

Sleep Cycles

In order to understand dreams, first we have to understand how sleep cycles work. Human sleep is divided up into 2 cycles – REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and Non-REM. Throughout the night, everyone cycle through Non-REM and REM sleep. We usually have 90 minutes of Non-REM sleep during which our body rebuilds and repairs tissue to strengthen our immune system. This is followed by a short period of REM sleep, in which our sleep is more restless. Our REM cycles lengthen as the night goes on and can last up to an hour.

It is during our REM sleep that we dream. Since your baby spends a lot more time in REM sleep, he will dream more often! While you spend about 20% of your night in REM sleep, your baby will spend up to 50% (maybe even more, in the newborn stage) of sleep in REM sleep. REM sleep tends to be a lighter, more active sleep than non-REM sleep. We wake up more easily in REM sleep, as well as in the first two stages of non-REM sleep. This is one reason why your baby wakes frequently at night, and has naps that are too short. Hence, it can be concluded that it’s certainly possible for our babies to dream.

Do babies dream more?

When we see small babies smiling in their dreams, we might wonder whether they are dreaming. What are they dreaming about? Some experts point out that babies must dream, given how much time they spend in REM sleep. Child psychologist and pediatric dream expert David Folks posits that babies use their REM sleep to develop new brain pathways and later, even develop language. When babies are sleeping, they are processing knowledge. During REM sleep, a baby’s brain is busy developing new neural pathways and all that learning, growing and developing leaves very little brainpower for dreaming.


In 2010, an interesting study was done which proved that babies learned while they were sleeping, and learned rather quickly. Sleeping newborn babies who were played a musical tone followed by a gentle puff of air on their eyelids learned in just 15 minutes to expect the puff of air after the tone was played. Scientists measured brain activity and noted a tightening of the eyelids just after the babies heard the musical tone. Hence, a sleeping baby is a learning baby. Since their brains are so busy during REM sleep doing other things, all these learning doesn’t leave much effect on them.

What do they dream about?

Well, most of us would probably agree that we dream about those things with which we’ve had experience of, either events or things we’ve read or heard about. So, if we apply that logic, babies’ dreams probably include a lot of pooping, sucking and crying or playing. The exact subject matter is still unknown, but their dreams are most likely silent, says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., the associate director of the Sleep Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He states that; “Since infants don’t have language, their dreams probably consist of imagery without any dialogue”. As a baby grows and becomes more aware of their surroundings, they will slowly develop images and words too in their dreams.

So let’s finally conclude that newborn babies probably don’t dream all that much. But don’t underestimate their dreamless sleep that much. There’s important business and lot of learning going on inside that little head even while they are sleeping. Let’s just stand back, watch and enjoy those beautiful moments.